By Antanas Tamosaitis

The traditional apparel made in the home and most frequently seen in Lithuania in the middle of the 19th century id now worn only asPeople in coats from Dzukija. 2nd half of the 19th c. representative dress by women on major national holidays and by members of folk dance ensembles and choruses. From the second half of the 19th century, home made clothes began to be replaced by manufactured garments which first appeared in the cities and manors, and by the beginning of the 20th century the wearing of traditional dress became rare even in the hamlets. Lithuanian village women served many of the hand-women articles and holiday apparel handed down from generation to generation as part of their heritage and dowry; many examples of the original dress of the 18th-19th centuries were subsequently collected and placed in museums. Archaeological excavations and historical sources provide some background for the even older fashions from whittle now typical national costumes are derived. The oldest archaeological findings are scattered fragments of thick wood and thin linen textiles which had been preserved in barrow graves dating from the 1st-5th centuries.The more numerous fragments of clothing from the 9th-12th centuries have provided the means for the reconstruction of ancient dress. Women wore linen tunics with high closed collars over long woollen skirts and somewhat shorter aprons, embellished near the hem with rows of bronze spirals.

The main outer germinate was a thigh woollen shawl richly decorated with bronze ornaments and secured in front with large brooches or pins. Jewerly included rings, necklaces, bracelets, chest ornaments with clans and pendants, brooches made from bronze, silver, glass, enamel, and gold.There are very few written references to ancient Baltic clothing. Old Prussian dress is casually mentioned by chronicler Peter von Dusburg (14th century); more descriptions and illustrations are available of Old Latvian garments which had many common characteristics with their neighbouring Samogitians. Several examples of Lithuanian clothing are pictured in 16th-17th century etchings and map legends. The most informative sources of Lithuanian dress are thePeople in coats from Dzukija. 2nd half of the 19th c. German works about Lithuania Minor from the 17th-18th centuries. Theodor Lepner (1633-1691) listed and names of various articles of clothing and described their customary use. Matthew Praetorius (1635-1707) illustrated rather original dress designed with narrow aprons and skirts gathered at the hem. Eduard Gisevius (1798-1880) left about 150 paintings of women and girls of the Lower Nemunas area in formal dress; the paintings were housed in the Museum of Königsberg until World War II.

Gisevius, especially impressed by one experience, wrote that this eyes were opened “by a new fantasy -freeing scene: my whole attention was suddenly drawn to the women and maidens… Their very traditional and unpretentious but eye-appealing apparel was a remarkable sight, in sharp contrast with the drab clothing of the men in their grey homespun coarse woollen jackets and blue woollen jerseys. Adorned with expensive otter, the individually styled blue fur coats were embellished along the shoulders and upper back with golden gallons, light and dark yellow borders, parallel zigzags and arcs; tied with a long, wide, multicoloured woven sash with a tick fringe at the ends, these fur coats slightly gathered at the waist, did not hide a fine figure; they were so different from every other such apparel, that it would be appropriate to acknowledge them as a century-old garment untouched by the waves of fashion. Ingeniously embroidered long linen kerchiefs embellished with delicate crocheting hung down just bellow the elbows, yet still revealed the garment’s decorative borders, and made one forget that he was viewing a simple village girl. The most tasteful of all her ornaments, and without doubt taking much time and even additional kelp to arrange, was her hairdo. The elegant effect was achieved neither with curls, nor with elaborate chignons and pompadours, but with shining hair simply parted in the middle and crowned by two delicate braids, adding a particular fascination to the woman, besides the fact that no wind, storm, or whirl-wind dance could even lay a hair amiss”.

There are more descriptions, illustrations, and artists’ sketches of clothing from the 18th-19th centuries. These are supplement by the museum collections of the original garments. The collection and preservation of national costumes was stimulated by the growing interest in ethnological studies in the 19th century. Ethnographic Eduardas Volteris, commissioned by the Russian Academy of A woman at the cradle (Aukstaitija). Middle of the 19th c.Arts and Sciences in St. Petersburg, travelled in Lithuania from 1884-1887 and compiled several sets of traditional costumes which were later presented to the Museum of Moscow. In the beginning of the 20th century, Kazys Grinius, later to become president of Lithuania, made a collection of women aprons and sashblets from southern Lithuania, which is now in the M. K. Ciurlionis Art gallery in Kaunas. Collections of national costumes were compiled by other persons as well. A colourful selection was exhibited at the Paris World’s Fair (1900), in Dresden (1906) , Moscow (1911), and later in art galleries in Lithuania. Until the reinstatement of an independent Lithuanian nation (1918), there was no attempt made to classify national costumes according to style and territorial region. In 1931 the chamber of Agriculture undertook to collect the surviving examples of traditional clothing and form more complete sets. From 1935-1938 Antanas Tamosaitis travelled to many Lithuanian hamlets collecting describing, and illustrating national costumes in colour sketches. His data was published in Sodziaus menas (Rustic art), vol. 7-8, 1939. The first volumes of his publication were devoted to folk textiles and weaving designs which formed the basis of the national costumes. The examples collected by the Chamber of Agriculture were donated to the Culture Museum of Kaunas. The oldest traditional garments were all woven in the home using homespun thread coloured with various plant dyes. Each article of clothing was made from a particular type of cloth and thread. Lithuanian women excelled in this craft as exemplified by the ingenuity and creativity of the various types of cloth, designs, colours, and sewing patterns. In some regions the clothing was styled long and wide , while being short and narrow else-where. The many garments were matched following aesthetic rules.: if one article of clothing had an elaborate design, the other was simpler; if one use warm colours, the other had cooler shades. Women’s dress was more colourful, varied, and decorative.

The main articles of clothing for women were: a blouse. Skirt, vest, apron, coat or fur, and a kerchief. The long-sleeved blouses were made from white linen; the sleeves, collars, and fronts had an abundance of elaborate designs women into the fabric. The long skirts were usually wide. , gathered at the waist or finely pleated, and made from wool, half-wool, linen, and other types of materials; they were horizontally or vertically stripped, chequered or decorated with embellished patterns. The vests were sewn from finer wool and half-wool materials, with small check, stripe, clover leaf, or arc patterns, placed horizontally or vertically. The oldest aprons were long and wide, homespun white linen, People from the Klaipeda region. 2 nd half of the 19th c.with narrow woven bands attached near the hem, made from two or more colours. Coats were made from grey or brown homespun coarse woollen cloth decorated with darker cloth or fur. Large woollen, half-wool, or linen scarves, covering the shoulders, complete the costume. Women also had a variety of head coverings, woven belts, foot-wear, and jewerly. Clothing in various regions differed in form, decorative techniques, colour co-ordination, and wearing method; distinctions were made not only by tradition and accessibility of materials, but also by the character of the people and their environment.

The primary classifications of garments approximate the main dialect regions of Lithuania. In High Lithuania, women’s dress maintained the more tradition al forms: light in weight and colour, with plain or moderate designs of checkers or stripes. A subdivision of this group is formed by the Vilnius region. There around the nation’s capital, women’s clothing acquired a greater elegance and decorativeness with more patterns and colours further emphasised by white embroidery. In Eastern Lithuania (Dzukija) the clothing is characterised by multi-coloured and chequered patterns, and the shortness and narrowness of the styles. Southern Lithuania (Suduva) has two main groups: the kapsai and zanavykai. The Kapsai women have long, wide dress garments with large designs of stars and tulips, semidark in colour and partially striped. The zanavykai costume is one of the most decorative in design, colour and style: luxurious, dark, and loose. Samogitian (zemaiciai) clothing stands out for its simplicity, bright colours, wide striping divided into checks; women wore several skirts and fancy scarves. The apparel in Lithuania Minor (Mazoji Lietuva) was chequered, striped and one of the darkest in colour; their blouses, linen handkerchiefs, and scarves were especially decorative. The women in Lithuania Minor were noted for their patterned woollen knitting of gloves, sweaters, stockings, and kerchiefs.

Men’s clothing was similar throughout the nation with regional differences noticeable only in certain details. Their garments were generally plainer, greyer, less patterned and more simply woven than that of the women. Trousers were the only apparel that had more colour with patterns of stripes or checks. Their other articles of clothing were shirts with embroidered collars and fronts, vests, heavy linen tunics (trinyciai), coats, and fur capes.

A woman from the Zanavykai region (Suvalkija). Middle of the 19th c.

People (a man with a linen tunic from the Zanavykai (Suvalkija) region. Middle of the 19th c.

A girl with a front piece from the Kapsai region (Suvalkija). Middle of the 19th c.

Until the end of the 19th century all the fabric for the garments was woven at home; each household had spinning wheel and a loom. The art of weaving was taught to girls at a very early age, with emphasis on good, harmonious and colourful design. As young women prepared for wedlock they filled their dowry chests with household linen and clothing, not only for their own future use, but also as wedding present for others. The most elegant occasion for wearing the traditional native dress was during the wedding feast, where besides many other folk songs, there were those that described the individual stepsfor transforming flax and wool into festive garments.


[Foreword][Postilla][M. Dauksa and M. Giedraitis][Homeland][Customs][Language][History][Gallery][National Programm][Events][Mass Media][News][Information][Contents][Guest Book][Home]

© Samogitian Cultural Association Editorial Board, 1998.
Comments to:

Page updated 2003.05.15.